Many people were participating in the tournament hoping to win one of the large prizes. An official announcement placed that 3762 people were participating in the low-order segment. Three thousand three hundred and twenty were warriors, the rest magi or priests. The mid-order segment was much smaller, just 427 people, 386 of whom were fighters, the rest priests and magi. Much more than was expected.
As a result, the organizers resorted to a crude selection method for the preliminaries. The segments were divided into hundred-strong groups who would fight each other for an hour in a battle royale. A series of massive every-man-for-himself engagements. The participants were eliminated when they lost their badge, which they had to wear on their chest. The rankings were also based on how many badges they could take. Four groups were in a block and when the block finished its matches the best 50 would advance.
The fights were bound to be very intense, but killing was forbidden. Everyone knew there were bound to be some casualties though, so everyone had to sign a waiver before they were allowed to participate. Anyone found breaking the rules would be disqualified and prosecuting according to the empire's laws.
The rules were firm and well thought out, but the combination of a far larger pool of participants than expected and the organizers' inexperience lead to three deaths on the first day. Just over twenty were also left crippled.
Leguna's group was scheduled to fight on the second day. Kurdak and Vera were in the fourth group. The fourth group was much smaller, so it was expected to finish much quicker and to not be as intense. The first day saw two groups fight, but the second day would only see Leguna's group, Kurdak and Vera's group would fight on the third day.
Leguna went to the tournament hall and inspected his surroundings. He had observed the previous day's matched, but didn't see Annelotte. He'd checked his groups list, but she was not there either. Had that servant lied to him? His efforts would have gone to waste if she were not participating. No matter how much he thought about it, the familiar ice-blue did not appear. Traces of disappointment flashed through his eyes.
"What's wrong? Nervous?" Gerd asked. He came to the tournament hall with him.
Leguna's usual companions were absent. They liked sleeping more. Though of course they said it was so they could rest before their match. Truthfully, they weren't bothering because they already knew what the outcome would be. He'd killed high-order opponents, and faced several at once several times. No mid-order match could threaten him.
"A little," Leguna murmured. His disguise was troublesome, but he didn't want to expose himself just yet, so he stuck with it.
"Alright, it'll be fine. Just stick by me. Remember. Try to hide the best you can and don't provoke anyone. Strike when you're certain you can take them out."
"Thank you, Mister Gerd."
He didn't need the advice, but the thought was welcome. The man glanced at him meaningfully before smiling.
Vincent and five other warriors mingled nearby. He whispered something to his comrades as his eyes darted to Leguna.
"It seems Vincent isn't going to let me off easily," Leguna said.
"Don't worry. It'll be chaos in the fight. His group is strong, but they'll be distracted by a lot of other people. They won't have the time to bother with us."
Leguna looked around but saw only unfamiliar faces. The frost-bitten face did not appear.
The matches took place outside the city. The palace guard had built a temporary portal nearby that connected to a colosseum outside the city. It was a huge circular building with a dueling platform in the middle with layers and layers of seats stacked up around it like so many terraces. The colosseum was full already. Most of the audience was commoners, though a few nobles sat in viewing boxes separated from the rest.
After Leguna passed through the portal, he was sent to a corner. He looked around and hurried to regroup with Gerd. Though he didn't fear a fight, he preferred to be saved the trouble of having to deal with everything alone if he could avoid it. He was here for Annelotte, not for fighting.
"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen!" the deep-voiced announcer in the middle of the arena began. He was also the match's referee. Hocke hosted the tournament to find talented people, but it was also an entertainment event. Anyone could spectate a match so long as they bought a ticket. The empire was making a lot of money, and entertaining the peasantry at the same time.
Leguna listened to the man as he prattled off one announcement and speech after another. While the colosseum was huge, he had his own methods. His voice could be heard even in the the farthest seat on the highest terrace.
"Alright, that's all the rules. I trust no one lacks the class and proper upbringing to not know to not break them--" The announcer's eyes swept over half of the arena. "--I guess both the audience and participants are raring to go! Without further ado, let the match begin!"
"Follow me. Don't run around!" Gerd yelped as he dashed off.
Leguna drew Lighteater. It's darkness became a sword-shaped void as it moved. It's strength was incomparable to how it'd been when he first got it. He flicked his wrist quickly. The sword didn't make a sound.
"There's a single guy there. Let's go!"
Though Gerd was a decent guy, he was no fool. He wasn't bothered with sportsmanship here. Anyone was fair pickings and he'd exploit every situation across which he came. His target was a 12-stratum warrior. He was quite bulky, but he didn't stand a chance against Gerd.Gerd didn't fight with a sharp weapon; he used a set of mithril gloves instead.
"Since the competition doesn't allow killing, using a blunt weapon lets me fight without having to control myself as carefully," he'd explained.
Their prey roared when he noticed someone approaching. He swung his two-hand axe with all his might but Gerd stopped just before coming into range. He quickly stepped in once the axe passed and struck. The man was strong, but couldn't control it well. He lost his footing as his axe swung, which played right into Gerd's hands. He lunged forward, into the range where the axe was ineffective.
Axes, spears, and other long weapons were great at the extremes of their range, but once one got inside their swing, they were practically useless. They were meant to keep the enemy at a distance, not engage them close-up. Now inside the enemy's swing, Gerd stuck to him like glue as he hammered away with everything he had, knees, feet, elbows, fists, shoulders, even his head came into play a couple of times. In just two minutes, the enemy collapsed, unconscious.
Gerd removed the badge on his chest easily. He turned back to see Leguna fighting an 11-stratum warrior. He couldn't help but smile at how agile the kid was and rushed in to help.
"He was yours, so you take his badge."
"Thank you, Mister Gerd."
"Don't be so polite. Just tell Kurdak to treat me to a drink or two when you get back," Gerd smiled, "Alright, let's get a few more!"
A shocking roar burst through the air in that moment. Leguna followed the sound and saw a giant over two meters tall tossing a man away like a piece of trash. Not far from him were four nervous-looking participants. One of the four was a magus!
He's teaming up with three warriors to take on that giant? What the hell?
Impetus didn't just improve physical abilities, it also helped sharpen senses. The giant was 150 meters away, but Leguna could see him clearly. His muscles rippled as he moved. He was slightly yellow but still felt impressive. This was certainly not a normal colour, Leguna, at least, had never seen someone like that before.
The giant fought three warriors and a magus alone, fear nowhere to be seen. His target, a ranger, drew his bow and started shooting in a panic. The magus also snapped and quickly dictated a spell. A fireball quickly formed in his hand.
The giant knelt and punched into the ground. His opponents stared at him in a confused daze. He pulled his hand out a moment later, a giant boulder clasped in it which he held up to block the attacks.
Leguna's eyes narrowed. If he wasn't mistaken, the yellow skin and the huge shield wasn't a skill or a spell. They were gifts!
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